March 3, 2011

Measles Outbreak Being Tracked In Boston

Health officials in Boston are tracking a measles outbreak and say there are now a total of five confirmed cases.

The confirmed cases include an incidence of measles in a woman living in the same building as a woman diagnosed last month. Boston city health officials said final lab results are expected sometime next week in the three additional suspected cases, Reuters Health is reporting.

The first confirmed victim in Boston was a young woman employed at the French Consulate who health officials believe contracted the measles overseas.

In unrelated cases in other parts of the country, health officials are watching for measles victims that might be have been caused by an infected plane passenger. A New Mexico woman contracted measles after passing through four major airports in Virginia, Maryland, Colorado and New Mexico and spent time in Washington, DC.

The University of Massachusetts-Boston has notified about 45 students and five faculty who may have come in contact with one of its professors, whose symptoms were reported earlier this week. As part of their effort to contain the spread of the illness, Boston health officials have been offering free vaccination clinics.

Initially, measles has the symptoms of a cold, but later a rash develops on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. People are contagious four days before and four days after the rash appears. Measles is a leading cause of death among young children in the developing world, but is seldom seen in the United States where vaccination is required of all school children.

University of Massachusetts-Boston freshman Bianca Baldassarre seemed unfazed by the campus-wide e-mail the university sent out a alerting students, faculty and staff to the outbreak, "I've never really heard of someone getting measles," she said. "I feel like it's something you'd hear about during the Great Depression. "¦ I'm not really worried about it."

Because the rate of immunization in the United States is so high and colleges are diligent about ensuring entering freshman are appropriately immunized, epidemics in the United States do not take hold easily, Dr. Mark Pasternack, chief of the pediatric infectious disease unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Reuters Health.

Kathleen McAndrew, executive director of health services at UMass Boston, said campus health staff had been kept busy fielding more than 200 calls to their hot line about measles.

"The phone doesn't stop ringing," she said. "Everyone's been calling and asking, "ËœWhat does this mean for me? What's going on?' "¦ I think it's a positive sign. It means people know they can come to us with questions."

People are considered immune to measles if they have had two doses of the vaccine or were born in the United States before 1957.


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